Opening day last March at the baseball diamond in Poinsettia Park, West Hollywood, looked like any men’s softball scene. Guys stood shoulder to shoulder on the field singing the national anthem. The names of local bars and businesses--Highland Chiropractic, Tango Grill--were emblazoned across uniforms.
Then Greater Los Angeles Sports Assn. secretary Carl Jeffers called for a moment of silence. The teams bowed their heads in remembrance of friends who have died. Standing near second base, Richard (Chilli) Chavez of the Gold Coast team began to weep. Teammate Danny Miller wrapped his arms around Chavez’s shoulders and held him.
Later, Miller said, “During that moment of silence I was thinking about trying not to cry.” Danny Miller has seven silver rings; six of them belonged to dead friends. He is the last survivor of seven college buddies from Houston. “There were only three of us made it to 30,” he said.
Chavez, 37, last year’s most valuable player, was dying of AIDS, but not benched. “When I get a chance to play,” he said, “I get into it and sometimes I’ll dive for the ball and stuff like that because I’m very aggressive, but I’m so weak . . . .” On this day he got a hit but was not able to run to first base.
Almost all of the 175 players in the 16-year-old GLASA league are gay, and Commissioner Rick Leon estimates that 70% are HIV positive. Instead of knee injuries and torn ligaments, these players worry about teammates who miss practice for transfusions and are benched by colds. Gold Coast lost one player to AIDS last year and three players the year before.
Chavez died two months after opening day. The league held a memorial service on the field June 20, as it has done for all its fallen players.
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